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Diversity in motion and peace in action

22 July 2011 4 Comments

McDonald's, Tbilsi, Georgia

Every time I visit Tbilisi, a wave of fascination mixed with a slight touch of sadness hits me. Fascination because there is something magical yet real about the city that never ceases to amaze, nor ceases to offer something new to be explored. There is sadness, however, because I realize another reality back in Baku is completely different from the one found here.

Tbilisi is the only capital  in the region where you can experience diversity in motion and peace in action. It is the only place where you can meet, talk and sit with Them over a common table. Free from fear and hate, you can let yourself enjoy the company of people who are very much like you in looks and habits, sharing a similar culture and mentality, with only closed borders otherwise separating you from Them.

Armenians.

The more I get to know Them, the more it becomes clearer that what I often hear on TV and read on Internet is merelya  display of pitiful nationalism masked in the wrap of patriotism and manipulating the emotions of ordinary people. Those who never get a chance to hear another narrative of the reality outside of propaganda will surely imbibe the image of enemy.

Funny to think that I could have been one of those.

Not that I was spoon-fed the hate towards Them, but the thought of being with Them at the same time and in the same location, let alone sharing drinks and conversation on a hot summer evening, seemed very far from reality until recently. As arrogant and shallow as it may sound, I had always thought that it was progressive well-educated people elsewhere that could be stereotypes-free and thus more open to experiencing different cultures.

But in Georgia, you can literally feel and taste of it on the streets, cafes, shops and among the common people. With a smile on my face I remember a young Armenian waiter presenting me with a refreshing juice for free after I introduced myself as someone from Azerbaijan. Both Azerbaijani and Armenian languages were spoken at the next table with people laughing and joking.

A Syrian-Armenian waiter switched to Turkish when serving his Azerbaijani clientele.

And it is not only about Azeris and Armenians co-existing here. It is about Georgians as well. For some people it might seem unusual, but I am used to it so much that I took it for granted. The openness of Georgians, that is. Despite strained relations withRussia, Georgians are not hate-centric. Whenever I needed to find a direction, address, a bus number or just buy a delicious slice of khachapuri, I would start the conversation in Russian.

And there was always a hospitable Georgian with a soft accent ready to help.

Back in Baku, I am not isolated from the peaceful picture of the Caucasus entirely as I also get to interact with Them from time to time in offline world. They still remain here as part of our lives, be it at work or on a daily basis when there is something to be fixed at home. In that case an  Armenian plumber is the only person we trust to call. Of course, they have to keep a low-profile among others for obvious reasons.

True, meeting with Them in third countries such as Georgia doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually in an informal relaxed setting without the enforced need to fixate on conflict and disputed lands. In fact, participating in a cross-border project in order to meet with Them at some 5-star hotel or resort venue is not necessary.

If there is the real desire to open yourself up to embrace diversity and Them, it is possible to do so on your own. In a much more open and comfortable environment without any imposed agenda, it is possible to meet over a common table outside of Armenia andAzerbaijan in cities such as Tbilisi. Experience has shown that some of Them want the same…

Reader in Baku

4 Comments »

  • · Global Voices said:

    […] of the still unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, Reader in Baku comments on meeting with Armenians on neutral ground in the Georgian capital and suggests others do …. […]

  • Georgia: Diversity in motion · Global Voices said:

    […] of the still unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, Reader in Baku comments on meeting with Armenians on neutral ground in the Georgian capital and suggests others do …. […]

  • Georgia: Diversity in motion @ Current Affairs said:

    […] Unable to visit each other's country because of the still unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, Reader in Baku comments on meeting with Armenians on neutral ground in the Georgian capital and suggests others fro…. […]

  • Hulya said:

    A comment that focuses on peace and coexistence and uses Georgia as an example is always a pleasure. One can sigh a big sigh of relief. Whew! At least in Tbilisi we don’t have those problems! But alas, Georgians do have problems with other communities, just not with Armenians and Azeris. For these two fellow South Caucasians, they have always offered an atmosphere of freedom of movement and conviviality, perhaps for others too in the region (I hear Iranians are starting to see Georgia as a vacation destination!).

    The openness you speak of, the gentleness in their Russian, and the smell of coexistence, this is all very good. Let’s hope its positive karma reverses to other local matters, for solving the issues with Abkhazia, embracing hopes of some kind of togetherness with these fellow Caucasians one day, or with Ossetians and Russians unfettered by thoughts of territory and autonomy.

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